Earth Notes: OktoberForest

Oct 3, 2018

For some, autumn means celebrating by raising a glass of a crisp lager or October ale. But the Nature Conservancy wants patrons of local breweries to know you can’t have beer without a healthy forest.

The OktoberForest decal
Credit Neal Chapman, TNC

Three years ago the Conservancy launched “OktoberForest.” One hundred microbreweries in 30 states have joined the initiative to educate customers about the connections between forests, water, and beer.

Hops and malted barley make beer more flavorful—but mostly beer is made of water. On the Colorado Plateau and throughout the West, water comes from forests. Summer rains and winter snows soak deep into the soil, replenishing springs and aquifers.

But forests aren’t so healthy anymore. After decades of fire suppression and a drying climate, they’re primed for catastrophic wildfires. Last year 10 million acres burned in the United States—and we’re seeing some of the worst wildfire seasons on record.  

These unnatural blazes harm essential watersheds. Fires leave bare, blackened lands that give way to mudslides and floods. Water flows off and doesn’t infiltrate cleanly into the ground.

Initiatives like the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project are working on the problem, by thinning overgrown forests and putting healthy fire back on the landscape. But, it’s a time-consuming, expensive effort, and not always popular with the public.

So during OktoberForest, participating breweries around the plateau will serve up pints with a story about how forests store and filter more than half the nation’s water supply.

Managers of the program want people to know—if you love beer, you should love your forest too.